Review: I Am Legend


Another year in passing and here comes another apocalyptic disease/zombie/vampire movie that aims to entertain further to our already zombie-fied minds. The latest offering is ‘I Am Legend’ starring Will Smith and directed by Francis Lawrence. This movie is based on the acclaimed book by Richard Matheson, a book published in 1954 that played a big influence to many zombie-related master works such as George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and more recently Danny Boyle’s ’28 Day Later’ as well as the excellent follow-up, ’28 Weeks Later’.

The synopsis from Wikipedia:

“A genetically reengineered measles virus called Krippen Virus or KV, created as a cancer cure (by a doctor in a cameo by Emma Thompson), rapidly spreads and wipes out the population of the world by the end of 2009, leaving military virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) the last human survivor in New York City and possibly the world.

The virus killed 90% of the people on the planet; fewer than one percent are immune. The remaining survivors were infected, initially exhibiting the early symptoms of rabies, but then degenerated into an animal state driven by hunger and blind rage. Neville is watched by these "Infected" people, who react painfully to UV radiation. They therefore avoid sunlight and hide in the dark underground, and in buildings (in groups called "hives" by Neville), swarming out at night. Dogs and rats are also susceptible to the virus. By 2012, Neville has not seen another normal human being since the virus' release three years earlier, and suspects that the Infected have succeeded in killing the remainder of the immune survivors. Neville is outnumbered by the infected and running out of time as he seeks a cure.”

I remember reading the book ‘I Am Legend’ by Richard Metheson (published in 1954) briefly during my high school times and recollecting what I’ve read with what I’ve seen from the movie in 2007, I can clearly differentiate that there are many divergences. For one, the situation with the dog is clearly different as in the book the dog was found and was then domesticated. But in the movie it was already there as a family pet. But this is just a minor difference. The main variance is largely on the main character, Robert Neville. In the book Robert Neville is depicted as a loathsome bastard that drinks, curses and has problems controlling his sexual drive. However in the movie, he is an ideal family man with a loyal dog (with a knack to shoot semi-automatic rifles and has expertise in explosions). In the movie, he is the hero that discovers the antidote and he becomes a legend that saves mankind from the ravages of the vampire disease. But in the original book, Neville is actually the bad guy. He is in fact the monster. As Neville strives to wipe-out all vampire-kind in existence, he is the killer, the devil and the legend that all vampires fear as they strive to build a new society after human-kind. He is the destroyer that all vampires believe will bring about the destruction to vampire’s existence if he is not stopped, hence ‘I Am Legend’…

But comparing the book with the movie will be another ‘the-book-is-better-than-the-movie’ rant so I’m not going touch on the book from now on. As a stand-alone movie, I think it has more positives than the negatives. One of the positive highlights is that the movie managed to achieve an atmosphere of desolation and abandonment so good not since ’28 Days Later’, where a completely deserted London shocked the audience into disbelief as how did the filmmakers managed to capture such moments on film. This time around, it is New York’s turn and what a sight to behold: completely abandoned streets that no one can possibly comprehend such streets can be empty, is shown in eerie magnificence on screen. Where busy cars once roamed the concrete pavements of city roads, it is now replaced by deers wandering in packs across weed-ridden streets searching for food. Truly a visual highlight is needs to be seen to be believed.

Another positive is Will Smith. I believe his performance here may not be perfect or even Oscar material, however he managed to hold the movie well and gave the audience enough weight in his character that allowed the audience to endure 2 hours in the cinema without suffering the feelings of ‘oh-God-here-he-is-again’. Mind you, for about 80% of the movie, you will be seeing him A LOT. From hunting deer to talking to mannequins to giving his best impression of ‘Shrek’, he is on-screen most of the time and he does enough to give you a good sense of entertainment, believability in his character and very much helped to tell the story the way it supposed to be told. Although some scenes may be played over-the-top (the scene when he realized the mannequin ‘Mr. Fred’ was moved without his knowledge), but all that will be forgiven in the end.

One more highlight is definitely the dog ‘Sam’, which I believe is one of the best on-screen performance from a dog (maybe a there’s a few of them) since ‘Lassie’. Mind you I never liked German Sheppards since I was a kid, but this time around it was an exception. Maybe the upcoming ‘Lassie’ movie will be replaced by a German Sheppard instead?

In the end, the movie was scary at some places, sad at certain parts and down-right creepy along dark corridors of vampire death. Overall it achieved the lonely ‘feel’ of a post-apocalypse New York spectacularly and successfully created a chilling menace from the vampires that can leave you at the edge of your seat.

Now for one negative which I really must highlight. Considering how much money and effort that put into create a look of an abandoned New York, the CGI for the vampires is absolutely horrendous. Mind you, this is a big-budget blockbuster movie and yet I’ve seen better CGI effects in movies found in ‘Cinemax’ than this. The vampires are purely CGI and they are hardly scary, they do not attack in a menacing way and they only scream like they have a bad day of headaches. The scare was solely relied on the camera-work, the sound and editing to create the scary effects and nothing more. The CGI vampires was a complete waste and much can be learned from what was done in Danny Boyle’s zombies in ’28 Weeks Later’ which relied on make-up and acting that really brought out the terror of the undead. Maybe the budget went all the way to Will Smith’s pockets instead…

As a conclusion, this movie is really entertaining and contains many elements that are commendable. Not really the best movie in its genre at the moment as there’s are many out there that is much more superior to this, however this movie should be enjoyed as a stand-alone effort, detached from the original book, separated from the merits of past movies in its genre and you will get a movie that is simply enjoyable and thrilling. A legend this movie may be not, but a entertaining one this certainly is.

Verdict: 7 / 10

Reviewed by: Raymond
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